Quaker Universalist Voice

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Consequences of a crime

What Comes After, by JoAnne Tompkins — A review

What Comes After: A Novel, JoAnne Tompkins (Penguin, 2021)

In JoAnne Tompkins' What Comes After: A Novel, the crime is apparently accomplished and confessed in the first few pages, but the effects and the continuing mystery reverberate in the lives of many in the town and in transforming ways. The complexities of sexuality self-management and the management of weapons all have human consequences.  The main subtheme is the normal pregnancy to birth of the teen who appears in the mystery. This makes the novel attractive and important for high school students.

The arc of time and the ripple effects of trauma through relationships and generations suffuse the novel.  The author brings a confident hand and extensive experience with post-crime relationship observation and interaction experience to the novel.   

The title is accurate in recognizing that the story is about the actions and relationships following the traumatic event of the first pages.  What comes after are the consequences for real people. This book is not about any life after death in any usual sense, except for the continuing role of that life events ripple through the lives still living. This post-trauma process is. A universal human process

These characters are believable. The language is vivid, but it accurately reflects the roughly current U.S. time and place. The dialogue sounds true. An odd, but powerful family is formed slowly from the wounded by the  earlier trauma.

The book’s tone is conversational from different narrators and captures the cadence and feel of the reflection processes of diverse people, whose lives are disrupted by the traumatic event. 

This book is not all down. It shows the process of deep healing, hope and a new integrity forged together in a community.  It is not simple, but it is true to the experience of many Quakers. This is resilient human nature observed and deeply understood.  Mystery remains a part of life. Survival is on display.

This is a painful read because the action is powerful.  This is a painfully beneficial book.


An important subtheme of this book is Quakers, Quaker values, and Quake processes.  The author is impressed with the Quaker world from personal experience but at a distance as observer.  The novel is worth Quaker meditation on the strengths and weaknesses, success and failure of Clearness Committee processes.  This book is a useful tool for Quaker reflection on the application of Quaker testimonies in the discernment of faith and practice.


  • Do Quakers possess sufficient written resources about the real consequences of traumatic events for use in Quaker youth education?
  • Do Quakers have examples of the solid benefits of the use of Clearness Committees for use in Quaker youth education?




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